The Queen of Dialogue is here. A new Diablo Cody script. We’ll be learning a few dialogue tips today as well as whether Cody is back.
Premise: An overworked borderline depressed mother of two is forced to hire a “night nanny” to take care of her newborn.
About: Tully is Diablo Cody’s latest. But don’t close your browser window while simultaneously rolling your eyes just yet. Cody is teaming up with the director responsible for her two best efforts – Juno and Young Adult – Jason Reitman. Charlize Theron, who starred in the latter film, will be joining the two again.
Writer: Diablo Cody
Details: 91 pages
I was going to review Cloverfield today but everyone’s saying it’s terrible. That’s a bummer because the Super Bowl release strategy (“Here’s our trailer – go watch the movie now!”) was possibly the greatest of all time. Here’s my old review of the script. Keep in mind this is before they Cloverfielded it.
Not to worry because we’ve got the latest Diablo Cody script. Let’s jump right into it!
Marlo has an 8 year-old daughter, Sarah, and 5 year-old son, Jonah, who is autistic. She’s also nine months pregnant. Already overworked and under-slept, Marlo is afraid of what this new baby is going to do to a life that’s already in Stage 3 survival-mode. Even with a loving husband, she knows she’ll be testing the limits of human ability.
While at her brother’s house for dinner, he tells her of this thing that helped his wife – a night nanny. The night nanny shows up in the evening and stays with the baby all night, bringing her to you when it’s time to nurse, then whisking her away when it’s over. It’s the perfect solution, according to her brother, and saved his marriage.
Marlo is resistant at first, but comes around when her sleep deprivation hits the breaking point. Tully, a 20-something cool chick, arrives a night later, and wins Marlo over immediately. Not only does Tully remind Marlo of herself when she was younger, but she’s so damn calm. She can handle anything. Within days, Marlo’s life turns around. She’s getting sleep now. She has more energy. She’s the life of the dinner party.
But Tully isn’t just here for the baby. She wants to help Marlo. She wants to get to know her. And so Marlo confides in this perfect yogi-like presence about what her life used to be like (fun!), about what her life is like now (not fun!), about her sex life (nonexistent!). This leads to the script’s most controversial scene. Marlo, disgusted by her worn down baby-bearing body, has Tully have sex with her husband as a “gift” to him.
Things take a turn when Tully confesses she’s thinking about quitting. Marlo sensed this was coming, and the two decide to have one last crazy night out. Unfortunately, that night ends in disaster.
They say write what you know. But what if what you know is boring? Clearly, Cody is writing about her ongoing experience with motherhood. The question is, does she find a way to make it interesting? The answer is mostly yes. We know that something is up with Tully and we’re willing to go through this journey to find out what it is.
But before I talk about the plot, I want to talk about dialogue. I don’t care what any of you say. Cody is still one of the better dialogue screenwriters in the business. I’m sure she’s made a ton of money doing uncredited dialogue polishes for huge movies. And while I don’t have time to get into all the reasons her dialogue rocks, I’ll highlight a couple of things.
Early on, Marlo’s brother, Craig, and his wife, Elyse, visit her in the hospital after she’s had the baby. One of the best ways to gauge whether your dialogue is working is if the characters are reacting to things differently. If they’re reacting the same, there’s no contrast, and contrast is where you’re going to find a lot of good dialogue.
So Craig apologizes that they can’t stay but their daughter “is in the middle school musical tonight.” Marlo asks what show they’re doing. Elyse answers, proudly, “Rent.” Craig then says, “I don’t get it. It’s like, just pay your fucking rent. Problem solved.” As you can see, these two react to the same information differently. It would’ve been easy (and lazy) to have Elyse say, “Rent,” and Craig respond, “She’s been working so hard on it.” Losing that contrast instantly softens the dialogue, making it boring.
Another dialogue tip is to steer away from absolutes. When Marlo first meets Tully, she’s shocked by how young she looks. This woman is about to take on an immense amount of responsibility. So the first thing Marlo asks is, “How old are you?” Tully smiles. Marlo ‘checks herself,’ then says, “I’m sorry; I just wasn’t expecting—“ “Don’t apologize,” Tully says. “I get that a lot. I’m older than I look.”
In this exchange, most writers would’ve had Tully answer the question, “How old are you?” with her age. That’s boring. Steer away from absolutes. As you can see, Tully doesn’t even answer the question! She just smiles, forcing Marlo to respond to her own question. Already this exchange has become more interesting. Then, to top it off, Tully doesn’t directly answer the question. She just says, “I’m older than I look.” By avoiding the absolute, you write better dialogue.
One of the hardest parts about writing good dialogue and what Cody excels at is sprucing up responses. Not all the time, but sometimes when a character says something, the other character gives us a clever or “spruced-up” response. After Tully unexpectedly cleans the house one night, Marlo thanks her. “I just wanted to thank you for cleaning the house. You really, really didn’t have to do that.” Okay, now think for a second. The other character in this scene, Tully, is going to respond. What is she going to say? 9 times out of 10, the writer is going to have her say, “Oh, it was nothing.” I know because I read everything. That’s what everyone writes. But if you have in your head, “I’m going to spruce this response up a bit,” you come up with something more interesting. Tully’s response in the script is, “I enjoyed it. I have an energy surplus. Like Saudi Arabia.”
Now that’s pretty clever. But here’s the real trick in writing a line like that. You have to create a character who says interesting things (or says things in an interesting way) to begin with. Cody gave Tully two qualities. One, she was ultra-mysterious. And two, she had an endless storage of high-school-like facts at her disposal. So this line wasn’t created in a vacuum. It was something Cody integrated into the character from the start.
As I wrap this up, I’m going to talk some BIG SPOILERS. So if you don’t want to know, turn away now. Okay, so the big reveal is that our night nanny, Tully, isn’t real. This whole thing has been happening inside of Marlo’s head. I have to give it to Cody. I didn’t figure it out until page 75. I knew something was up, obviously. Tully was just too weird not to have something going on. But for some reason my mind didn’t go there. I kept waiting for her to kidnap the baby or something.
Does the twist work? Sort of. It’s set up well. We know that Marlo already had a mental breakdown. So it makes sense that she would have another one. The blowback might come from the husband character. He conveniently goes straight to the bedroom every night at exactly the same time so he never sees Tully. I think Cody sensed this, which is why she created the free sex with our hot nanny scene. But that scene was so weird and so out-of-place, it only got my spidey sense tingling more.
But who knows, this ending might dupe audiences. And a great twist ending is word-of-mouth gold. We’ll have to see if that happens with Tully.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Script Bait – You guys all know what click bait is, right? You give’em an article title that’s impossible not to click on. Well scripts have that too. It’s called “Script Bait,” and what it is is a line of bait that makes it impossible for the reader not to read on. Script bait is ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT in character driven scripts where you don’t have a ton going on plot-wise. So early on, when Marlo’s brother is encouraging her to get the night nanny, he lays out this script bait line: “I don’t want what happened last time to happen again.” We’re not informed what he’s referring to. But you bet your ass we want to know. Which means we’ll keep reading until we find out. Script Bait baby. Make sure you’re dropping it.